Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Violet Wong

1916 Century Award Nominations

12068530171690234341director chair.svg.medSo, once again the Academy Award nominations have been announced, so once again I announce the nominees for the Century Awards. This year, incidentally, I saw several Oscar nominees – all in categories like “production design” and “visual effects” and “makeup and hairstyling.” So yeah, whatever.

Some basic ground rules, once again: I do not have categories for animation or shorts. Those movies are treated like everything else, since they were on a more even playing field at the time. I didn’t actually watch any animation for 1916, so that’s moot anyway, but lots of shorts (mostly comedy) have been nominated in various categories. I only watched one documentary this year, so that category’s a gimme, but I have included it as a nominee in a number of other areas, including Best Picture (because it really is good enough to be considered for it). Oh, and I make no distinction between English and “foreign language” films, since with Intertitles it makes minimal difference.

I do reserve the right to make changes in the final weeks as there are still a few more 1916 films I hope to get around to watching. If you have any opinions on these nominations, or suggestions for things I should watch (especially if they can be seen for free on the Internet), please do write a comment.

Battle of the Somme-film

Best Documentary

  1. Battle of the Somme

Best Makeup/Hairstyling

  1. Intolerance
  2. Queen of Spades
  3. Waiters Ball
  4. The Danger Girl
  5. Snow White

Best Costume Design

  1. Intolerance
  2. The Curse of Quon Gwon
  3. Queen of Spades
  4. Snow White
  5. Joan the Woman

Intolerance BabylonBest Production Design

  1. Intolerance
  2. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
  3. One A.M.
  4. Joan the Woman
  5. The Captive God

Best Stunts

  1. The Matrimaniac
  2. Flirting with Fate
  3. His Picture in the Papers
  4. Reggie Mixes In
  5. The Poison Man (Les Vampires)
  6. The Rink

Best Film Editing

  1. Intolerance
  2. East Is East
  3. His Picture in the Papers
  4. The Battle of the Somme
  5. The Bloody Wedding (Les Vampires)

Hells Hinges3Best Cinematography

  1. Eugene Gaudio, for “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
  2. Elgin Lessley, for “He Did and He Didn’t”
  3. Billy Bitzer, for “Intolerance”
  4. Joseph H. August, for “Hell’s Hinges”
  5. Carl Hoffmann, for “Homunculus

Best Visual Effects (includes animation)

  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  2. The Spectre (Les Vampires)
  3. The Devil’s Needle
  4. Homunculus
  5. The Mysterious Shadow (Judex)

Best Screenplay

  1. East Is East
  2. Hell’s Hinges
  3. The Curse of Quon Gwon
  4. A Life for A Life
  5. Joan the Woman

lord-of-thunderBest Supporting Actress

  1. Lidiia Koroneva, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Louise Glaum, in “Return of Draw Egan
  3. Constance Talmadge, in “Intolerance”
  4. Marion E. Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  5. Musidora, in “The Lord of Thunder” (Les Vampires)

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Al St. John, in “Fatty and Mabel Adrift
  2. Robert McKim, in “The Return of Draw Egan”
  3. Eric Campbell, in “The Count
  4. Marcel Levésque, in “The Bloody Wedding”
  5. Ernest Maupain, in “Sherlock Holmes”

Best Leading Actor

  1. William Gillette, in “Sherlock Holmes”
  2. Charlie Chaplin, in “The Vagabond
  3. Olaf Fønss, in “Homonculus”
  4. Henry Edwards, in “East Is East”
  5. William S. Hart, in “Hell’s Hinges”

joan-the-woman1Best Leading Actress

  1. Vera Kholodnaia, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Florence Turner, in “East Is East”
  3. Geraldine Farrar, in “Joan the Woman”
  4. Marguerite Clark, in “Snow White”
  5. Violet Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”

Best Director

  1. Evgeni Bauer, for “A Life for a Life”
  2. Yakov Protazonov, for “Queen of Spades”
  3. Marion E. Wong, for “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. Cecil B. DeMille, for “Joan the Woman”
  5. Charles Swickard and William S. Hart, for “Hell’s Hinges”

Best Picture

  1. “Intolerance”
  2. “Hell’s Hinges”
  3. “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. “East Is East”
  5. “A Life for a Life”
  6. “Joan the Woman”
  7. “Homunculus”
  8. “Sherlock Holmes”
  9. “The Battle of the Somme”
  10. “The Return of Draw Egan”

The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916)

Once upon a time, an enterprising Chinese-American businesswoman named Marion E. Wong set out to make a feature film, using friends and family members for her cast. After two advance screenings, the movie languished in her basement for fifty years before she gave it to a relative, and then it was another 39 years before it was restored and digitized in 2007. Now it is available, and serves as a document of a culture that was rarely captured on film at the time and even more rarely in charge of its own narrative when it was.

Curse of Quon Gwon3I cannot give a detailed summary of the movie, because some of it is lost, importantly including the Intertitles that would explain much of the relationships and action on the screen. The basic story is timeless enough, however, that we can follow it in broad outline: a young Chinese American girl (Violet Wong, real-life sister-in-law of the director) with Western ideas marries into a very traditional family and is driven out by her scornful in-laws. The movie opens as the groom gives a statue of a household god to his mother, who seems to lecture him about the old ways. We see a good deal of the build-up to the marriage, in which the girl and her betrothed have tea together in what will be her bedroom, and she pokes good-natured fun at some of the traditional accoutrements of the ceremony, including a pair of oddly-balanced slippers for the bride, and a dangly headpiece for the groom. We also see her efforts to get along with her future mother-in-law, who seems quite formal, but not unfriendly at this stage. There is a scene I couldn’t follow in which she speaks to her husband in an outdoor setting, and suddenly breaks down crying (I’m guessing that he’s telling her he must go away for a while, based on what happens next). Then we see what seems to be the tail end of the wedding ceremony, demonstrating that she has learned to walk in the awkward slippers.

Curse of Quon Gwon2In the next sequence, the husband is missing, but there is a new element: Now Marion Wong appears as the “villain,” evidently a sister-in-law or other relative living in the same house. She takes Violet’s baby away and the mother-in-;aw gestures for her to leave after a confrontation, offering her a knife to commit suicide. I think Violet is being accused of neglecting her baby, since what seems to be a doctor comes to look at the child in a later scene. Violet goes out into the rain and seems to be ready to slash her wrists, but suddenly throws down the knife and wanders out into the wilderness. There is an odd scene in which she cuddles a lamb, appearing no worse for the wear after sleeping outside in the rain. Then we return to the house, where the husband returns and learns what has happened. He cries for his loss and confronts Marion with her cruelty. Then Violet turns up at the door again, and her takes her in and comforts her. Marion, realizing that her plot has failed, plunges the dagger into her own heart. At the end, Violet produces the household god and pays homage to it, suggesting that all the turmoil was due to her disrespect at the beginning, and that the tragic events since then have helped her to accept traditional ways.

What's that on your shoulder, son?

What’s that on your shoulder, son?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from an non-studio film from this period but I was pretty impressed, especially by the filming and editing techniques. Most beginning filmmakers, especially at this early time, don’t give themselves enough “coverage” to show a scene from multiple angles, get close-ups and establishing shots, etc., but Marion and her crew did quite well. It was, in fact, less “stagey” and static than a lot of professionally-made films at the time, and demonstrates a good grasp of so-called “film grammar” with a liberal amount of different angles and shots. Scenes sometimes end with an iris-in, especially for strong emotional moments. One particularly good shot shows Violet at her mirror, with her face perfectly framed by the mirror as she works on her complicated braids. That’s not to say there are no mistakes – one scene had a distracting reflection that kept hitting the leading man’s shoulder, and a couple of edits have a sort of “hiccup” effect where we see the last few frames before the cut were repeated. And, of course, some of the footage is less than perfectly intact, so it’s hard to know how good it was meant to be.

Curse of Quon Gwon1It’s a pity that audiences of 1916 missed out on this movie. I suspect that Ms. Wong discovered that distribution was more difficult and expensive an investment than she’d anticipated, and gave up when she realized she probably wouldn’t make her money back trying to do it independently. It remains however as a document of a truly under-represented segment of American culture from a time period that tends to look disturbingly white when only the most popular images are seen.

Alternate Title: The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West

Director: Marion E. Wong

Camera: Unknown

Starring: Marion E. Wong, Violet Wong, Harvey Soohoo.

Run Time: 35 Min (surviving print)

You can watch it for free: here (no music).